(Brussels)- The Senegalese government’s announcement that it will establish a commission to prepare the trial of the exiled former dictator of Chad, Hissène Habré, is an important step towards justice, Human Rights Watch said today.

In a statement issued today, exactly four months after the African Union mandated Senegal to prosecute Hissène Habré, government spokesman El Hadji Amadou Sall said that Senegal will revise its laws to permit Mr. Habré’s trial and will establish a governmental commission under the Minister of Justice to oversee the legal changes, make contact with Chad, create a witness protection program and raise money to carry out the investigation and trial.

“After four months of silence, this is an important and encouraging step by Senegal in the right direction,” said Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch, who works with the victims. “Senegal now needs to move forward quickly to organize the investigation and the trial. Hissène Habré’s victims have been seeking justice for 16 years.”

The government also appealed for financial support from the international community, an appeal echoed by Human Rights Watch.

“The challenges and the cost of investigating and trying massive crimes committed in another country over fifteen years ago are considerable,” said Brody. “If Senegal shows that it has the political will to deliver justice, the international community must come forward to help.”

On July 2, 2006, at the request of the African Union, President Abdoulaye Wade agreed to prosecute Mr. Habré, who has been living in Senegal since 1990.

A copy of the communiqué issued by the government of Senegal (in French) is attached. {The date of July 4 given in that communiqué for the AU action is incorrect. It was July 2)

Background

Mr. Habré was first indicted in Senegal in 2000 before courts ruled that he could not be tried there. His victims then turned to Belgium and, after a four-year investigation, a Belgian judge in September 2005 issued an international arrest warrant charging Mr. Habré with crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture committed during his 1982-90 rule. Pursuant to a Belgian extradition request, Senegalese authorities arrested Mr. Habré in November 2005. When a Senegalese court refused to rule on the extradition request, the Senegalese government announced that it had asked the African Union to recommend "the competent jurisdiction" for Mr. Habré’s trial. On July 2, 2006, the African Union, following the recommendation of a Committee of Eminent African Jurists, called on Senegal to prosecute Hissène Habré “in the name of Africa,” and President Abdoulaye Wade declared that Senegal would do so.